Some are not proud of our national anthem. Some take a knee when it is played. Some say it’s too warlike and want to replace it.
To me, it is the most beautiful national anthem ever written. I get chills in my spine when I hear it and I think of the circumstances and the time in American history it was written.
On Sept 13, 1814, the day the British began the naval battle of Baltimore during the War of 1812, Francis Scott Key, a lawyer and amateur poet, was aboard a British vessel in Baltimore harbor negotiating the release of an American doctor being held prisoner. Key secured the release of the prisoner, but as the British were about to begin the bombardment of Fort McHenry, they refused to allow him and the released prisoner to return to the mainland. Their fear was that the Americans would warn of the impending British attack.
The British began the bombardment of Fort McHenry in the early evening of Sept 13. Key watched from the deck of a British ship from which he was able to see the American flag flying over Fort McHenry. The bombardment continued throughout the night and was so intense that the flag remained visible as a result of flashes of light made by exploding shells and rockets. The following morning, the 14th, Key was able to confirm the American flag still flying over Fort McHenry. The American defenders had not struck the flag nor surrendered. They had defended the fort despite the savage British attack, and their defense was critical to making the British rethink their involvement of the War of 1812.
Moved by the sight of the proudly waving flag, Key used the back of a letter to write the first stanza of a poem of what he witnessed and of the emotions he felt. The short poem asked a few questions and made a few statements. Yet, simple as it was, it (and the other three stanzas he later wrote) resonated with the people of the relatively new nation. People who were brave, resolute, and strong. People who were willing to fight and die for precious freedom and liberty. The poem was put to the tune of a popular song and eventually became our national anthem.
Friend, when I hear our anthem, I listen to the words and try to imagine the pride Francis Scott Key must have felt that morning of Sept 14, 1814 for the defenders of Fort McHenry and the flag they flew. It is this history of our anthem that makes it so important and beautiful to me.
Key’s original version (first stanza)
O say, can you see by the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hailed a the twilight’s last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight
O’er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming?
And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.
O say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?